Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Agon My Face

The Greeks, who seem to have an exciting word for as many things as American English does, have a simple, four-letter word for a contest or squabble, which may be internal or external, or both.  the word is agon, which you first learned as an English major, at about the time you were having many inner and outer squabbles with yourself.

Many of the books presented to you, often from the eighteenth century, but some from times before what is now called CE, Common Era, when September had thirty days; so did April, June, and November, were of a rambling nature, called picaresque.  

To remind you of some of these, let's look at the mischievous and bawdy ramble, The Golden Ass,  composed by one Lucius Appuleus, who lived more or less from 123 until 170.  But let us not forget Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Tobias Smollet's Humphrey Clinker, and Peregrine Pickle.  Nor should you fail to mention Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, among the unforgettable genera.

All of these were episodic romps, some, such as Humphrey Clinker, built around a journey ( who could forget that most epic journey from the Tabard Inn, located in beautiful downtown London,to the Canterbury Cathedral?), others elopements or a series of episodes, many of which, on consideration, could have been cut from the narrative without material damage to it.  

Although you'd been raised on more plot-driven stories, these picaresque novels captured your undying admiration, causing you at the same time to wish to emulate them with your own more modernized versions of adventures, some built on nothing more dramatic than a group of individuals standing in a long line to purchase tickets to some performance.  

From about age sixteen until your mid-twenties, your typical manuscript was a thirty-to-forty-page outing, introducing characters who sometimes were more distinguished by their desire to get off their pages and back to some activity that defined them.

The agon began when you also began another life-long fondness for the type of plot-driven story you found in what were called pulp magazines.  The key to such stories was determinism, a philosophical or logic-based position in which every event is the inevitable outcome of previous conditions which could cause no other result.  Variations caused different outcomes and, in consequence, different stories.

Your agon was the inner contest whereby you could produce a story that seemed picaresque, yet was stitched together in a way reminiscent of some of the Maine shoe and boot makers of today, still producing hand-sewn shoes.  The result you had in mind was obviously hand crafted and would seem so to anyone who read it.  

You rejoiced at the number of critics you read who assured anyone who would accept their view that any perfection to be found in a given novel would have to be found in one or more of its basic elements, such as characters, or the way characters speak to one another, which is dialogue.  Perhaps there was perfection to be found in pacing or setting. 

Two Saul Bellow novels, The Adventures of Augie March,  in particular because of its voice, and Humboldt's Gift, because of the way it played the characters of Charlie Citrine and Humboldt as a kind of Martin and Lewis comedic ballet with more tragic undercurrents, dazzled you with hope that you'd be able to bring your vision to a focus.

For the longest time, you'd come to believe that John Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men, was the closest thing you'd found to bring these elements of character, goal, dialogue, pacing, and suspense together.  At length you found others, interestingly enough coming from writers who produce shorter works, say Denis Johnson's Train Dreams, Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone, and any of a number of shorter ventures by Louise Erdrich and Jim Harrison.

 From time to time, when you found such novels and longish short stories ("The Rich Boy" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Guided Tours of Hell by Francine Prose)  you read them again and again, in search of clues for insights that might guide you to producing some of your own works to your own satisfaction.

Now, more than ever before, you understand the challenge before you, the one that caused so many crumpled pages, torn from a succession of typewriters, so many delete buttons pushed on so many computers, so many notebooks, scanned for clues of insights and visions, 

Monday, December 15, 2014

I Suspect, You Suspect; He, She, or It Suspects

Difficult as it is to ignore the proper place of suspense within most stories and the mystery in particular, the ease with which suspicion becomes swept under the carpet leaves you with a jolt of fear.

Speaking of difficulty, you conduct uneasy searches to retrieve the date (or dates) of your first acquaintances with this most complex of emotions.  So far as you are concerned, suspicion has fear built into it, like air bags in new cars.

 With your experiential and thought processes whirring away from your early years, then gaining traction as you worked (some would say blundered) you way through teens into the twenties, you began to grab hold of the one piece of real estate that cannot be taken from you:  Things aren't always what they seem to be.

The passing of time adds more velocity and substance to this belief.  The mantra is edited.  Now, nothing is what it appears to be.  Perhaps, in the richness of time, you will be able to express that sentiment with even more terse effect.  This world view, which gives you the surface complexion of a misanthrope and pessimist, helps you define and understand that state of being called story, for what, in fact, is story when the things within it are no more and no less than what they seem to be?

There are advantages to be had in support of beliefs supporting uncertainty and its bedmate, suspicion.  For starters, you join your brother and sister readers by your readiness to question the state of any given noun, any person, place, or thing.  In stories of mystery and detection, you join brother and sister readers by regarding most facts presented to you as clues which have been embedded with a measure of cleverness to disguise their intent of providing a platform of logic which will lead to the perpetrator.

However a mountain goat leap of logic it may seem when you 1) try to identify a fact as a fact, 2) identify a fact as a clue, and 3) identify the clue as relevant to the solution of the mystery, much of the early stories you were fed, as an impatient young reader, then as an English major, were too logical in their build toward a sense of dramatic closure.  

You could hear a ticking in the motor, but you could not identify it.  Only in the most recent years are you able to say to your own satisfaction that many of the early novels you read were too logical in their outcome, could, in fact, have no other real outcome than what they did.

You wanted Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe to marry Rebecca, the daughter of Isaac of York; you wanted The whale to get away in Moby Dick, you wanted Natty Bumpo and Chingachgook to get on each other's nerves in The Pathfinder, and you wanted Penelope to whack Odysseus over the head with his own sword at least once when he came back home in The Odyssey.  

In each case, you wanted these outcomes because they seemed more lifelike.  This is another way of saying you found many endings, many English endings too contrived, too arranged.  The French and Russians had it all over the place for more convincing, satisfying endings.

Along these lines, even though your favorite novel, the desert-island book of your choice, Huckleberry Finn, has an ending you like, with Huck striking out for the territory ahead because the aunts want to civilize him and he cant's stand the thought of it.  But you hate the fact that Twain felt the need to bring Tom Sawyer in toward the end, to undo much of the splendor he had set in motion.  Here Twain was, within the framework of one novel, his absolute best sustained narrative in fiction, changing forever the course of the American novel, setting in motion a serious rivalry between American writers to come and English writers to come.  But it grew too much for him; he had to bring Tom into it, returning much of the last fifth or sixth back into being a boy's book, and a romanticized version of boys at their worst, at that.

Thus Huck is not everything it seems to be, yet it is enough.  Even here, seeing that Tom is returned, there is the suspense of what Tom will do to steal the scene--make that scenes--from Huck.

You're at your happiest while reading and writing when you begin to suspect you know how things are going to turn out, which leads you to the next plateau of suspense.  In authors you cherish, the next plateau on the way is the one where you realize you've jumped to a conclusion fueled by logic, thus your overall-but-guarded suspicion of logic so far as it relates to story and human behavior.

The best example of this balance for you is in the hammerklavier music of J.S. Bach, notably Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavichord, and the first of Die Goldberg Variotionen, The Goldberg Variations..  In each of these, you find a kind of logical precision and development, but each as well produces a strong, emotional sense of presence.  

Bach knows how to achieve emotive beauty in orderly progression and development.  When you need a sense of balance and harmony, you take yourself to Bach the way Ishmael took himself to the sea when he felt a bout of depression advancing on him.

You look for order and logic in story, but as well, and in the same story, you look for the pauses, hesitation, and the suspense of stolen time or key signatures that makes music so effective in producing feeling as well as structure.  Life, in spite of our efforts to govern it, is largely random, our attempts at taming it producing a rough ride.  We turn to reading and music to show us some rules of order which we strive to understand, at the same time having our heart broken by the tragedy or our spirits lifted by such ventures as John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, or Ludwig Beethoven's sublime Symphony Number Nine in D Minor.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Would. Could. Should

"Would," "could," and "should" are dangerous enough words for the civilian; for the writer they threaten to hijack the story, hold it for ransom until the writer pays an unnecessary price to get away from judgment, then get back to story.

These three words are the Greek chorus of the conditions many writers impose on their characters and themselves.  Would is a sneaky culprit.  If you would have worked long enough to come away with a page, you could have a pretty good draft in a year.  You see how it goes.  You should resolve to do better.  Think of all those writers you admire, turning out the pages in a steady stream.

Under those circumstanced, you'd be competing with them rather than looking at their productivity as another sample of energy and creativity at work.  Under those subjunctive circumstances, you would indeed be placing the wrong emphasis on your admiration for the work of these writers, seeing them as somehow superior individuals because of their ability to turn out pages rather than for their insights, imagination, and world view.

You would soon have even more to wrangle about as soon as you could read their latest work, which should be a lesson to you.  But of course you've worked your way beyond that mindset, haven't you.  If you have not, you should try because this needs doing.  

If you have not coped with this, you should try to do so because you could then become freed to stand in the invigorating tingle of composition where you've had some preliminary meetings with the characters, then sent them into the rehearsal room to improvise with one another, start building a chemistry, each seeing who among the others to trust, like, distrust, admire, tolerate.

Words of conditional possibility have no place in the now moments of your story, the fifty or sixty or seventy percent of the activity taking place in the immediate moment.  To be sure, some of these now moments happen because in the past a character didn't do what he should, or, even if he'd done all he could, that effort was;t enough.  Those are conditions native to them,.  This is not your biography, this is story, and so the things you could have done and didn't do, or the things you did and now regret are only of passing value, things for you to transfer to the characters.

"Want," "yearn," and "need" are good substitutes. The moment a character has revealed to you what she wants, you see her in a different way, at once eager for her to see if she can manage to achieve her goals, at the same time hopeful she will not become so needy that she will make a mess of things.

When you discover she more than wants, she yearns, you're heart opens to her.  Even though you try to maintain objectivity, you remember things you've yearned for in the past, things you thought at the time would cause life-changing developments in your own life.  

Ah, remember those days, when some small object would bring an avalanche of consequence.  At one time, a chemistry set, complete with microscope, would have led you to discovering how the universe was composed, how it works, how knowledge was locked away in the periodic chart of elements.

At another time, a toy caught your interest that had you yearning for over a year to become a sound effects man for radio dramas.  You already had a repertoire of effects, such as crinkling cellophane before a live telephone receiver, which would sound to the person at the other end of the line as though a fire were raging.  And of course, coconut shells to replicate the sound of clomping horse's hooves.

A year later, an Erector set, with which you could build cranes and tractors and buildings.  You needed all these bits of information because the persons who wrote the stories that took you out of your boyhood and into adventures around the world knew these things already.  They did not use would, they already could.  They told stories not so much because they should as because they could.

This part of your life came together when your sister caught you listening to what was called a soap opera on the radio, back in the days before television was as common in a home as a computer is today.  The soap opera was One Man's Family, which was on its way to becoming the longest radio soap opera ever.  The story was set in San Francisco, a place that fascinated and intrigued you. You had more or less of a crush on one of the characters, Claudia Barbour, causing you to wait patiently until she had lines.

The same man who wrote One Man's Family also wrote its polar opposite, a series more to your liking, I Love  Mystery, which was also set in San Francisco, featuring three chums who were called soldiers of fortune, then amateur detectives, who were more interested in adventure than justice.

The author of both series, Carleton E. Morse, because your hero for a considerable time.  He was able to give you vicarious adventure and, at the same time, produce scripts you did not fully understand because they had to do with the sort of life you felt you had at home and wished to flee on the wings of adventure.

All these elements connect as you think about them, leading you to seek the mysteries and adventures within the smaller things rather than the epics, leading you well beyond the would, could should approach to narrative, careening headlong into persons who have passions they are hard put to keep to themselves.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Comedy and Humor, Non-Perscriptive Pain Killers

Comedy has the effect of an existential pain killer.  It has the same effect on the reader or viewer as analgesics have on persons with aches and pains.  

This is not intended hyperbole.  Comedy makes us feel safe by the way it speeds up and exaggerates tragedy to the point where tragedy is no longer overwhelming.  If we can laugh at a thing, the comic says, then we have defused the ability of the thing to harm us.  The threat is minimized, directed away from us.  We are safe.  We can watch those who are not so safe fall victim to the things we know to avoid.

Or so we like to believe. 

Much of the human experience, however bright with challenge and explosive discoveries, is haunted by the potential for sudden protracted loss, reversal of fortunes, changes in status, and afflictions from emotions that we tend to use in immoderate doses.  

Comedy distracts us from our own personal losses and tendencies toward overconfidence by providing us a scape goat, one we can watch suffer the unanticipated pie in the face or slip on a banana peel with the heartfelt relief that it is not us.  The keys to comedy are its physicality, its exaggerations, its accelerated pace.

What better figure to personify comedy than the clown, who may be of either gender.  Give the clown a bulbous nose, over-long shoes, and a face painted in a permanent smile.  Give the clown a few simple tricks, say some balls or tumbling pins to juggle.  Give the clown a squirt gun or an old fashioned siphon seltzer bottle with which to spray at whim.

You've lost track of the number of times you've used the comedy inherent in the Marx Brothers movies as a direct analgesic, beginning with the times in your mid to late twenties when what seemed like prolonged and permanent frustrations and failure in your attempts to produce the kinds of story you sought.  A Night at the Opera, Duck Soup, Animal Crackers, and A Day at the Races, through their antic exaggerations and playing on words, seldom fail to move you to your own inner vision of a comic and exaggerated world, where the precise things that were disturbing and haunting you are transformed into laughable absurdities.

Comedy is a constant reminder that seriousness may be taken too seriously, carried too far as a goal, can, in fact, become a parody of its own intent.  Focus and maturity are qualities rather than traits, valuable and worthwhile.  But comedy reminds us not to forget the inner child, wishing it were recess time so that it can escape the class room, run for the sake of running, laughing for the powerful sense laughter brings, where the body has all but lost control and given itself over to paroxysms of pure relief. 

The ghostly presences of loss, constraint, despair, helplessness,and the added fear of all these things arriving like unwanted relatives, are sent to rout in a hail of thrown pies and banana peels set out to trip the unwary traveler.

A prime target for comedy is dignity, self-esteem, self-righteousness, and the pomp and circumstance of rituals meant to assure the celebrants of their worth and importance.

What comedy is to relief, humor is to awareness of the potential for disaster, whether the bureaucratic kind, which produces endless rounds of senseless avoidance mechanisms, or the class-oriented ones in which the gatekeepers are frustration and potential menace.

Humor is the edgy knowledge of the secret behind the euphemism, the understanding that passing over means death, that not now can mean never, that ethnic cleansing can mean genocide, that love can mean the amount of a dowry, and that world peace means black, tan, and Asian races must recognize the inherent superiority of white races.  Humor can also mean such concepts as racial purity or the trickle-down theory of economics.

Humor is an awareness that definitions and boundaries change, depending on who is in power.  If the inner child, yearning for recess, exemplifies comedy, the cynic, who has already sensed what new disaster can be visited upon us, is the poster child of humor.  

This cynic may have a few illusions left,  folded away like the twenty-dollar bill folded into the boot of a homeless person, but on second thought might tape the twenty to the foot, mindful that even a pair of boots as old as these could become a target of opportunity for someone with no shoes.

We do not laugh so much at humor as we do when we experience comedy.  Instead, we're more apt to release a snicker or two into the atmosphere, a grudging recognition of congratulation that there are no mosquitoes yet.  Never mind that there have never been mosquitoes here, mind instead that when they come, they'll have a field day.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Notes from the Underground and Down Below

Until you were about eight years old, California was all you had ever seen of the world.  There were books and atlases from which you could get a young boy's sense of what other places might be like, even to the point of attempting to imagine yourself there.

Your parents were easterners, bringing a sense of what things were like in New York and New Jersey, in particular when they talked of their vacations when they were about your age.  There were frequent visits from the boyfriend of the family maid, telling stories of the Orient, of the Hawaiian Islands, his life as a soldier in far off places.  But none of these places could compare with California names, Spanish names, Indian names, Gold Rush names.

By the time you were eight, you had committed to memory the names of all fifty-eight California counties.  With eight-year-old braggadocio, you knew you would visit all fifty-eight of these counties; while you might travel from time to time to such places as Kathmandu, or Utter Pradesh, or the Hindu Kush, three of the many places you admired because their names made you laugh, you would always return to Los Angeles, where you would live an adventurous life.

With little warning, those dreams came crashing down upon your head.  The Great Depression had reached California.  The house in Santa Monica was sold.  The maid was let go.  The rentals became less spacious, their neighborhoods more of what now in retrospect you call middle-class flux, which is to say the once wealthy trying to live on their former wealth, and where you first heard the harsh judgment made on a person of her dipping into her principal. 

"What is meant by Lillian dipping into her principal?"  you asked your mother, only to be told, "Persons of wealth like to live on the interest of their nest egg.  It is considered bad form for a person of wealth to dip into the principal?"

"Do we have a nest egg?"  You asked, to which your mother replied, "Not any more."  This is the first time you can recall a person repeating such a statement.  If they only say "Not any more" one time, it means there wasn't all that much to begin with.  When your mother said "Not any more" the second time, you had the notion that there'd been more.

"I know how it looks to you,"  Al Burdette, the father of your best friend, said.  "Being paid to go around all day on roller skates would be your idea of a great job."  You had him at about forty, more or less your father's age.  At one time, he'd, as he put it, "worn suits to the office, but now what I get isn't an office any more.  I wear a uniform that I had to pay for."  Al worked at Carpenter's Drive-in at Fairfax and Wilshire, as a waiter.

Soon, all too soon, you were not in California any more; the concept of foreignness worming its way into your awareness.  They did not dress, speak, or behave like anyone you'd seen in California.  Too young to realize it at the time, you were one of the two basic story types, the stranger in town.  Your parents had some roots there, but their roots had a patina about them, the return of the native, changed, possibly, who knows?, corrupted by their time away, in California.

Circumstances took you to even greater foreignness of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where there was a greater sense of civility hovering over your foreignness and the foreignness that is New England.  You'd learned something about race relations in California, but in New York and New Jersey, it was more stark, edgy.  You learned more about it in Washington, D.C., where there were white and other drinking fountains, restrooms, and theaters, a cantankerous introduction to what you would see and experience farther south, in Florida.

Your frightful dreams at the time were twofold, that you'd never get back to California, or that you'd be back but not recognizable as a Californian.  Thus in apercu, your encounters with being foreign and being seen as foreign, then returning to what you thought was home, discovering the ways in which home had got along without you.

The war was over.  Individuals who'd seen California during the war returned, bringing so much of their foreignness with them that you were fearful you'd lost something irreparable.  Turns out you'd lost your eight-year-old self; California was exploding before your eyes, time-lapse photography in the making.

One way to experience a place is to remove yourself from it, then attempt to recreate it in the context of a story.  Another way is to invent characters who are not of that place, having to deal with, interact with those who are.  Another way still is to leave the place, make careful notes of what you missed, them come back to the place, writing about the things you'd missed the most.

Sometimes in your dreams you revisit the sun-baked Los Angeles of the time when your age was still counted in single digits.  At other times, you catch glimpses in your dreams of you moving over freeways on your thirty-four-year commute from Santa Barbara to the university in what those of Santa Barbara call Los Angeles, Down Below.

Many if not all the major activities and accomplishments in your life have begun in California.  You have made good on the promise of visiting all fifty-eight counties over time, a series of acts that made you aware of degrees of foreignness you'd experienced.  Most important of all, in your dealings with foreigners, you've become aware of enormous gaps in your education, which you have set out on a journey--the second basic type of story--to address.

From foreignness comes the essentials of education, the gradual understanding of the Self in any given place.

Have you lost your innocence?  Many times over.  Many times over.

Have you lost your naivete?  Too early to tell.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cosmetic Surgery for Face Value

The observation that December is not the time for cherries may come as a surprise or at least an anomaly to non-Californians now living in California because the produce departments of at least four markets, all of them part of a chain, features cherries.  The place of origin of these cherries is Chile.

Through a convoluted process of being a native Californian and, thus, conversant with a wide range of produce and fruit, seeing cherries in supermarkets, amid the Christmas decorations, is no surprise, but, with respect to Chile, the cherries do not survive the long trip as well as California and Washington cherries, which appear in season.

As many as a third of the Chilean cherries arrive with mold, bruise, or rot.  Whole Foods informs you that they, too, experience the fragile nature of the transaction and if you find yourself bringing home too many moldy cherries, perhaps you should stick to such local fruits as pears, tangerines, and oranges which, they will tell you at Whole Foods, you might wish to avoid because the navels you like tend to be a bit woody because of adverse weather conditions.

Albertsons says more or less the same thing.  It's a jungle out there.  Buyer beware.  That sort of thing.  Trader Joe's recommends you arrive early, don;t buy more than a day's worth at a time, and eat those with all deliberate speed, by which they mean eat the cherries by day's end if you wish to avoid mold and mushy cherries.

Only Gelsons steps up to say their customers should not have to suffer blighted cherries, regardless of their point of origin.  They seem to you to be saying they'd be as unhappy if you were to find their cherries moldy or blighted even if they were direct from the local tree, as it were.

In this manner, you've illustrated your current vision that few things or people are what they seem to be, an observation that affords your inner cynic a full serving of pleasure, but which also folds back on you when, cynic that you are, you wonder if you are what you seem to be.  Do you in fact have traces of blight or mold or bruise?  If so, do these afflictions have a measurable effect on your transactions with friends, students, clients, and the individuals you write about in fiction and nonfiction?

The man who hired you away from Los Angeles represented attitudes and belief systems that were polar to your own.  Even while he was representing these attitudes and beliefs on a daily basis and you had considerable contact with him in the sense that you reported to him, he was also displaying an ethical nature and sense of humor you admired to the point of outright respect.  Well before you'd met him, you had the growing conviction that persons, places, and things--most nouns--were not what they seemed on the surface.

This meant the need to look at things with a practiced focus, and so you began practicing your focus, keeping score of your judgments to the point of awareness that you did not have a major league average when it came to rating and ranking things.  Your errors of judgment were about equal in terms of you admiring something for its authenticity and dismissing it out of hand as a product of humbug, self-delusion, and memorized behavior as opposed to behavior learned from observation and assessment.

Part of this practiced focus involves the equivalent of judging a book by its cover, then checking with the text to see if the totality of the book is more or less than it seems.  You have to figure yourself competent to do that, given you've published hundreds of books, edited hundreds of others, and written some. You've gone so far as to have designed a few dozen and been responsible for the smooth sail through the production process of a few hundred others.  Let the record--or your own self-challenge--show that you did not seem to be the sort of person who could or would do such things.

In consequence, you have enough experience with books in the various stages of their lives to seem like the sort of a person who could judge a book by its cover, if you wished to do so.  Experiences with a printer this very day remind you you are not nearly so patient as you seem much of the time, a situation you take as a strength because, although impatience may sneak up on you to the point where you do something precipitous about it, say order a twenty-nine-dollar printer from Canon, where at one time you may have done something physical to the present computer before ordering a new one.  Where you might have been physical in your impatience, today you were merely diagnostic.

By not taking nouns in general at their face value, much less yourself, you arrive at a state of in-the-moment edginess, perhaps bordering into suspicion.  Kick the tires.  This is quite a difference from a time when many of the high and higher hopes you had for yourself were things you hoped to learn and feared that because they were so high, you'd have to settle.

You've arranged things to the point where your goals continue to involve high risk, but they also involve loving those risks rather than going after them with jaw set at grim, and the possibility of enjoying yourself oh, so thin.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It seemed like a good idea at the time

For the longest time, destinations were little more than abstractions, places you reached after setting forth from a point of departure.  Destinations were any of several movie theaters, the Regina on Wilshire, the Del Mar, on Pico, for instance, each at the far end of walking-distance range.  These were places you had to get to in order to see a double feature before you had to walk back.  

Double features, serials, and cartoons added an incentive for you to walk beyond the limits of your horizon.  Walking or hitching rides to Hollywood, and the Hitching Post Theater, which opened at ten of a morning, and showed as many as eight different films in the course of a day, was at the time the most exquisite destination you could imagine.

What did a young boy know of abstractions?  He was aware of such destinations as junior high school, of high school, then on to college.  These were places you had to go because you'd been born into a social class and a family where such destinations were not even questioned.  

After a time, you'd begun to suspect there would be destinations out of college, their abstractions already beginning to fade into a series of potential career paths which at the same time slammed doors on other career paths some of your friends were beginning to tread.  Once, in the throes of the kinds of conversations that begin at about nine or ten in the evening, then congeal into a blur as more, yet more bottles are opened, you saw and understood how the final destination is death.

Because you were at the age where such conversations began at about nine or ten in the evening, often lasting until the sun began leaking into the eastern horizon, you challenged the Cosmos to more or less bring it on, by which you meant to acknowledge death as a final destination of which you would be aware, but it was not anything in your immediate plans.  Death would just have to wait.  Some of those with whom you roistered, argued, then impulsively roared off to some romantic destination, say a nearby ghost town, or some lake which, during the course of the earlier discussions had taken on a must-see importance, have in fact reached their destinations.

Jerry and Don, with whom you frequently sought refuge in such places as Panamint City or Bodie, or even farther up toward the fabled California Gold Rush country, were mainstays of the Midnight Brigade, but there were also Lee, Jim, Stan, and one other individual who, for reasons still not clear to you, contacted you some years back over a gap of twenty-five years, demanding you remove all mention of him from your blog memoirs.  

The mention of the names of these individuals reminds you now, with nostalgia and reverence, of the times you reached destinations pestered by reverberating hangovers, looking for hair-of-the-dog beers and greasy breakfasts in some out-of-the-way destination that, as the beer, bacon, and coffee settled in, seemed like a good idea at the time.

The more you began to focus on the need for a story to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, the more blurry the abstractions became.  A destination, at first, became the place where the journey brought you, a place you'd written, revised, and tore up pages to identify, the be all and end all of story.  Along with this definition of destination, you had notions of how you would reach them, what you'd do after arrival, and what strengths and confidences you'd have picked up along the way.  

Unlike some of your friends, you did not wish to drive around Los Angeles and environs in a flatulent Jaguar or Porsche, sans souci as you tossed the keys to a parking attendant at one of your favorite restaurants.  You wished in stead to have the low-key posture and swagger of mountain men, individuals who took care of themselves while living off the land, while piling up a cache of pelts which they would then sell for enough to afford them a hot bath, a good hotel room, and some variation on the theme of a rib eye steak and a bottle of a rascally burgundy.

You neither sought nor anticipated the destinations of being a teacher or, for that matter, an editor, but here you are, at them.  Although they do at times provide conditions much reminiscent of hangovers, coffee is often enough to help you deal with the consequences of being at such destinations.  The mention of the word "consequences" reminds you how you have in fact arrived at a destination you'd not anticipated when you set out in search of the destination of becoming a writer.

There is a price to be paid, a sort of tourist tax, for debarking at any specific destination.  The price is a series of questions that you must ask yourself if you are to have any comfort within yourself.  What are you doing here?  Is this the place you'd intended?  Do you have any intention of remaining here?  Do you have any notion of how to get along here?

More often than not, the destination you've first arrived at when composing something turns out not to have been the destination you had in mind if, in fact, you had a tangible destination rather than the return-to-abstraction state.  Once in a great while, you'll have no quarrel with the very destination you set out to reach, but these times are rare.

In your current state and stage of projecting destinations, your introspection brings you news you've suspected for a long time.  You like beginnings and middles, enjoy putting yourself, your created characters, and your thematic ideas on some kind of ceremony of conviviality, no longer with absent friends, rather with those self-same characters and ideas.

You like standing on the bring, pushing, taunting, nudging, arguing with characters and concepts, until a destination somehow emerges from the rhetoric, the booze, the braggadocio, and the most insidious forces of all, risk and curiosity.

There is a great relief to arrive at some destination, look for signs of where and what it is, then catch some sleep before stopping to consider the route taken.

For the longest time, you've attempted to live your life in a way where what seemed a good idea at the time will not be a total disaster and stands the chance, after some decent coffee, of being amenable to a brisk touch-up before the threat of another destination comes flickering into your mind.